Healthy adults ages 18 to 60 can donate stem cells. Children may be donors for themselves or a brother or sister. In some cases, people who are older than 60 can donate.
If you wish to be a stem cell donor, a blood sample is taken from you and tested for tissue type. It's then compared with the tissue types of people who need a transplant. If a match is found, another blood sample will be taken. This is to see if your tissue type matches well enough for the transplant.
If you are chosen as a stem cell donor, you will have a complete physical exam. You will also be asked questions about your health and your family history of diseases. And you'll be asked to sign a consent form to have the procedure.
How it's done
Collecting or harvesting stem cells from your bloodstream is called apheresis. Stem cells can also be collected from your bone marrow.
Before the donation
For 4 or 5 days before you donate, you will get shots to help your bone marrow make and send more stem cells into your bloodstream. The medicine in the shots may cause bone and muscle aches, headaches, fatigue, and trouble sleeping. These side effects usually go away 2 or 3 days later.
During the donation
Donations are done in a blood center or hospital. A nurse will stick a needle into a vein in your arm to take your blood. Your blood is sent through a machine that takes out the stem cells and saves them. Then your blood is sent back into you through a needle in your other arm. If the veins in your arm won't work, the doctor may put a catheter in your neck or chest instead. In that case, local anesthesia is used.
The donation takes from 4 to 5 hours. You won't be able to move around during that time.
It's not unusual to feel lightheaded, have chills, feel numbness around your lips, or have cramping in your hands during the donation.
The donation may need to be repeated the next day. It depends on how many stem cells are needed.
If a bone marrow collection is done, the marrow is usually removed from the back of your pelvic bone using a special hollow needle. This is a surgical procedure done under a local or general anesthetic.
After the donation
If stem cells were taken from your blood, you can go home after the donation and resume your normal activities. If the donation needs to be repeated and a catheter is used, you may need to stay overnight in the hospital.
If stem cells were taken from your bone marrow, you will probably stay in the hospital for 6 to 8 hours. You can expect to be sore in your lower back for a few weeks. Most people can return to work in about 1 week.
Your bone marrow will make new stem cells to replace the ones you donated.
In rare cases, temporary anemia and low platelet counts may occur after a person donates stem cells by apheresis.